Western Short Story
The Coachman, The Marshal
Tom Sheehan


Western Short Story

Darwin “Darby” Colbert, Marshall Premier of west Texas counties, was damned sick and tired of the hits on regular coach runs and federal carriers as well. A pair of bandits, military in nature by hook and look, had presented themselves in concert with most military conduct; they said “Sir” when addressing male riders and coach drivers, and any and all ladies as “Ma’am,” on each and every hold-up. The Great War between the states had been over for about 16 years, so he doubted the robbers had been in that conflict, but had service experience in a later period.

May, 1880 had crawled up on Darby like a huge shadow in his office in Septo Hills, West Texas and Texas had been a state for 15 years, so the military experience could have been in several outfits of Federal or state composition. Nothing else told him that they must have been close pals, buddies, comrades-in-arms, for a stretch of time; he was convinced of it, surmised or not.

Could see them carousing on liberty weekends, getting happily drunk, slobbering on some lady’s shoulder, shut off by a tolerant bartender finally at his wit’s end, locked up overnight in multiple and local jail cells, their names posted on cell rosters. He could also see them refraining from some hold-ups when Indians showed the same interests; they thus knew better, perhaps en with anti-Indian military experience.

At least those conceptions served as starting points, from which came nothing for a couple of years as the hold ups continued, often 100 miles or more apart, the early railroads were snagging some of the traffic: perhaps “his” robbers loaded their horses and gear on board a freight train to reach a far target, keep the law at bay, get rich the easy way.

As it was, even as he mulled all known facts, the where’s and when’s, he finally settled on several probable sites, and then factored in the types of transported goods, the wealth on the run, and other business aspects that seemed fit with good cause.

He hired only men with military or law-and-order experience, giving every hire the same pitch on the job responsibilities and the general code of conduct each officer, as he had to swear in each new hire: “We’re going to fully arm a Buckwell Coach, every passenger and coachman armed to the teeth, all to attract the attention of a pair of thieves, with their own obvious military experience, and catch them in the act of robbing either a private coach or a postal coach, so help me god.”

He would often add, “I got to catch them so that I can get myself someday to New Orleans, my dream city. You might not believe me, but I keep thinking someone down there is calling me.”

That plea, he hoped, would spur assistance, mixing in a bit of adventure and romance to his presentation. With such goodies, he read their eyes, their frowns, their intakes of breath; every man is so measurable, being part of his own make-up, he was certain, yet wondering which of them tried to read him.

Of those hired so far, the most promising appeared to be Earl “Scotty” Hofspringer, bright, alert, quick to react, excellent with all firearms, and a leader in his own right. When he asked Scotty what he thought of the plan, his reply after a few quiet minutes, was, “Over there are two way stations with lay-over possibilities, a large remuda or exchange of horses and mules, and each one with a postal run and a regular coach run that seem to be targets for search and steal. The stations are about 40 miles apart with two stations in between, good enough for exchanging teams of horses, which can do about 5 miles an hour and make runs of about 12-15 miles. The main stations are at Ingram and Boerne with the exchange stations in between. A perfect set-up for our own ambush for the ambushers, if you were to ask me again.”

Darby Colbert thought he was looking at himself in a mirror, and pleased as punch in a large glass bowl.

Between the two of them, they laid out plans for rental of a Buckwell Coach, the type of coach on the regular run between Ingram and Boerne. Three strings of horses for exchanges between the selected stations were also needed, and posting of assignment of 8 men for each run, 2 men atop and 6 men inside the coach, each and every man armed to the proverbial tooth.

“One man said, “Darby, I hate to tell you, but that land is getting so damned familiar, there are some days I think I’m getting back home.” He laughed aloud at Darby’s scowl, until he heard the first sound of glee come from the big boss. That meant some kind of humor had to be brought into the project, now at 7 days in their runs, the hours getting longer, the miles twice as long.

On day 8, one hour into the first run of the day from Ingram’s second station, Smitty the driver, up top, reins to the team in his trusty hands, nudged his riding partner and said, “Jocko, better alert the boys I just saw a signal from one of our spotters that we’re gonna have company by the big rock in the bend of the trail; two men with masks, swinging rifles at their sides, waiting on us.”

Jocko leaned over the side of the coach, slapped a heavy hand on the framework of the coach, and his exuberant voice at special delivery, “Hey. Darby, we got word of your expected company up ahead, by the big rock in the trail. Masks and rifles at the ready. They’re riding horseback.”

Darby, cool as ever, even then a flash of New Orleans behind his eyes, said, “Now we earn our wages, gents. This is what all the practice has been about, all the grinding bumps on the trail, all the grime and dust we ever imagined, all the sore backs and cramped legs like we were never going to mount our own horses again. It’s here. Load up easy and careful, Prime shooting if needed. We do have a couple of miles to go. The lookout, I think Little Acorn, did his job, and now it’s our turn. Good luck to all of us. You all know what to do.”

He yelled topside, “Jocko, you and Smitty load up but take care We’ll do the shooting if it’s necessary, you do the ducking.” He slapped each man on the knee.

At the big rock, right where the train to Boerne took a twist, two masked men sat their horse in the midst of the trail right after the coach slowed down for the turn, They wore masks, the two of them, held their rifles over their horses’ heads, waved the coachman to halt with the promises of two rifles trained especially on the topside pair.

“Hold it right there, cowboy,” one man said through his mask. “We intend to rob you of any and all goods and nobody is going to get hurt.”

The speaker waved again the menace of his rifle. It was business making a point.

As soon as he had delivered his orders, two rounds of rifle shot, from the coach, hit the ground under their horses, One horse jolted as the rider dropped his rifle and grasped the pommel to hold on, and a second shot slashed under the second bandit’s horse, making the horse rear on his hind legs, the bandit falling from the saddle. He scratched miserably slow on the ground to retrieve his rifle, until a shot from an erect and tall figure topside of the coach destroyed the rifle with unerring accuracy.

It was over with no casualties, two prisoners locked into the jail back at Ingram, charges pressed, witness statements taken, the crew paid off and discharged, Darwin “Darby” Colbert, Marshall Premier of west Texas counties, submitted his retirement notice, and set out, via Buckwell coach, for New Orleans, hearing a voice saying, “I’m just sitting here waiting for the right company.”